dimanche 26 avril 2009

Poor List Ch. 7 pt II

The shopping precinct right in the middle of town, too small to be called a ‘mall’ to big to be called just a ‘precinct’, had been largely emptied of big brand names in the initial phase of the SGD. It was like hundreds of others I’d seen all over the country. When they were there, before, you hardly noticed them – now they’re lost or turned into ‘Gonemalls’[ Dr. Kilo Endgerety rather ugly neologism in his ‘Retail slowdown in Kansas: The Gone Malls and Empty Precinct in the post-bubble American Landscape: in The New Poor Minus Five Publishing House] you notice them everywhere. It started with an uptick in shop turnover. That Gadget shop had turned into a kitchen ware place. The Cut price DVD joint that used to be a cut price jewellers that used to be some travel agent or something. Who’d notice. Next if you had been keeping tabs on it all, you’d notice the place shut up shop that bit earlier on an evening, the people you might have been observing or meeting with no longer turn up as often as they used to or in smaller numbers or not at all, the bar, where you might have sat, closes with just a note on the drawn metal shutter saying that they’d see you in the upturn. Gather evidence, it was one of the top three tenets.

They sauntered through the narrow streets towards the Silver Castle, agreeing tactics. Danny led the way through shops, arcades and the main precinct. As they came up to a corner nearby the empororiumall Coily said,
‘We split up, Lumpy goes in we wait on the opposite sides of the shop, Sharon and Lisa do their stuff Lumpy’s in and out and gives the stuff to one of us. Usual thing after that. Scar’s then Superdrug. You’re on your own after that. You two got the lists?’
Danny zipped up the wavy styled zip of his purple top and toyed with a bolt just affront his hairline.
‘Sthe matter Dany? Scared or something?’ Coily said smiling, slowing them by the old McDonald’s corner. They stopped. Lumpy bent down as to tie his shoe lace.
Danny said, ‘Scared? Course not. Just feel like shit warmed up today,’ and scowled for a second. He then shrugged and said,
‘I’ll go in the side way right. See ya,’ and was gone.
‘Right I’m off knall. See you later, ‘ Lumpy said, stood and darted into the road narrowly missing a slow moving car. Coily loped after him and the flow of the crowd swallowed them all up.

Then, all the big names go, one way or another. Kilo’s law. But you can’t know everything. Kilo, the crits and the doomers all exaggerated things. The thing was the places still got packed. Sometimes. And though that didn’t mean things had returned to BT it went along with the rinsed eye hopeful mood that collapse had been if not avoided, then delayed enough so you still wouldn’t need to talk about it too much. These are ‘haunted times’ [The Haunted psycho-geography of industrial abandon. Kilo Endgerety ibid] That’s what the crisis had meant. Well, it’s what ‘crisis’ means. That things can go either way. At any time. A patient is in a crisis when an operation or a dose of chemical or electricity will leave it either alive or dead, I guess. Everybody knew it was there.

The three musketeers, as Lumpy thinks of things at the moment, swung into action as and when instructed. Lumpy was wrong, course, because they were a long way from being knights. Their individual standing in the ‘Great Chain of Theft-being’ was, in fact, still only five or six notches above the ‘Type II (a) disorganised opportunist thief’[1]. And this progression had taken time and effort. They were, though, coming to an end of a form of training. They didn’t all know this. And like all training it had had its ups and downs, runs of form, periods of disillusion and, in some of their cases at least, spells in youth offender units. But, in a few moves, they could take a lot of pieces in a very short space of time and were currently on a bull run. They were, however, up against it. The Darwinian struggle between the technology and manpower employed by the retailer and legal enforcement bodies had coalesced, in contemporary historico-psycho-geographical terms, into a eager and rapacious predator of upstart shoplifters, organised gangs and opportunist wannabees. It was Coily who knew that they were running out of air, but the thought of attempting anything more ambitious had never yet occurred to any of them.

So what had happened to the Silver Castle, like what happened to thousands of them all over, was that, once they were unable to pay councils for rent and even basic up keep , the directorate of the town’s Silver Castle Arcade Project had presided over a gradual decline from high profitable zone, polished chrome, muscle bound suited security, palm trees and cars on stands to frayed but still high P/E ratios plateau with slightly scuffed shiny floors with coloured water fountains, second hand cars on stands, bijou coffee bars and gadget shops and gleaming consumer promise of a place, to a scuffed flooring, empty water featured, one third full car park, roof parts working loose exposing wires, ducts and pipes for weeks on end and it wasn’t tropically warm anymore, empororium. It had happened slowly, though, over that eighteen twenty months, like a scar fixing itself and, in the near-end, the emporium, opened in fanfare that ten years before, had morphed into a sometimes echoey place where functional shops sold tea or scoop food and things for the kitchen. The Castle had entered a littered, continual seeming end-time (an ‘everything must go’ phase that roamers and the likes of Danny had interpreted in a literal sense) ever since I got here. Though I don’t think there was a connection.

The plan was stark but only worked in shops where the changing rooms were in plain view of people in the shop. As it had happened, quite a few. Essentially, the two women would just get changed. But in that accidentally on purpose observable way. In this, they would distract the security guards (in this instance a recently unemployed twenty year old man, nametag ‘Andrew’, who had been sent to Scars’ Clothing (‘Street style at Street Prices!’), very much against his will by the staff at the local Work Fend, with whom they had long since lost patience, and an even larger man who stood wherever he could so as to never see his own reflection) allowing Lump to use the detag to neutralise the magnet alarms and quickly slip each garment into his prized and gilded shopping bag as smart and ironed as Lumpy’s nap cut suit.
The two of them had dubbed it, ‘The Sexing of the Guard’, after trying it out in London on a weekend staying at friends a year or two back.

The big name topplers cleared out first, then the space rented to medium to lower sized firms, the tight margin just in timers like ‘Scar’, ‘Hempel and Forage’ (unofficial slogan ‘Cheap - but Rubbish!’) and the bargain basement electronic/computer conglomerates, all reasoning, wrongly as it turned out, that the upturn had arrived and things could would get back to normal soon, not eventually. All the clichés and media management had got aired, like ‘we must stop talking ourselves into depression’ ‘vicious circles’ and ‘catch 22 situations’ where the shops become less attractive so people don’t go so businesses don’t sell… even blaming the immigrants and I know, I had to collate a lot of it.

It was Sharon who was key to the plan. Lisa, a former cell mate of hers, had more of an apprentice’s role in the gang, and had become an important feature of this whole particular shop-lifting technique, but it was Sharon who played the major part. It wasn’t a very sophisticated way of liberating merchandise but it had worked in the five out of six times they’d tried it and the only time things had gone wrong, it had been Lumpy’s fault and the guards, unexpectedly, had been female.
Danny had half come up with the idea alone in his room, whilst under the effects of ‘K’, a horse tranquilliser, that had left him for a few excruitiating moments but a neuron’s width away from a full blown psychosis, one Sunday afternoon. Whilst trying to keep a grip on things, teeth and fists clenched, sweat pouring down his face, muscles rigid, all the usual, usually wonderful, effects, but this time far far too intense, he had hallucinated a way of dodging the unpleasant aggravation of having to physically assault security staff before they, the unshoppers, felt confident enough to make their way hurriedly out of premises and general area.
The malls were an important part of what had happened.
Their plan came off smooth as cream on a plate. There was no hitch from the moment Sharon caught the guards’ attention to the meet up on the car park’s fourth floor. No one noticed that had stuff gone missing until much later, from the cashier, to the security guards to the CCTV operators and viewers in a Styro office far away in the Indian sub-continent somewhere who, though paid a going rate, were failing in their function as a cost efficient means of alerting homeland staff of imminent and actual thievery taking place in thousands of shops throughout our sector.

I was stood in the pub which wasn’t far from the place. Right at the top of the hill near the ring road about half a mile away. The pub – meaning the Drug and Bottle - in town. The town specialises in off-beat sounding pub names. Course not, Jug and Bottle it’d be. I say half a mile away because the first time I saw Danny I didn’t know who he was yet, of course and he must have run it in less than a minute. If the time stamps were right. I’m sat there waiting for another half of the local lager I’d become partial to since I’d landed. This stuff is a pound a pint. No really. Ok, it tasted like pound coins do, but after half a glass of the stuff, it didn’t seem to matter that much. I thought I’d lost the taste for beer, after all that had happened, but, with things being the way they were, and are I suppose, it worked out economically.
It was a busy Saturday afternoon, it’d be, the place was packed and even though there was a Rozzers’ Den was only thirty second’s dash away, the interior was clogged with fumes of various stripe and saw a lot of trade of one kind and another going on. Real cigarettes from the bar-maid, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Speed over there, the dope-fiend’s corner that way and, by the book shelf in the other direction, the sex workers of various gender configurations, all warped and wefted into the pub’s swirling throng.

I had made myself invisible. I’d buy some supply and then settle down at a neutral part of the bar shielded by columns or in a corner table below the tv screen where nobody wanted to sit. Just about the time the football finished, this figure bounded in and some of the light stops coming into the pub. I turned casually as I could. No one commented or moved or asked him to leave or left themselves or threw him out or even, really, looked up. Even though he was like a human alarm, he somehow fitted in with the Drug's surroundings. General piercings and tattoos, he had the complete range of accessories, a shaved head and a bag of proletarian shopping crammed under a massive forearm.

He moved through the gaff with grace and easy expansive gesticulation. From over the other side of the wide pub, he moved and traded from table to table to clump of client to solitary drinker in methodical fashion. I lost track, distracted by the music. Once a song of the band’s came onand I was waiting for it to happen again. It never did.

He moved his way round and over to the side of the pub I was in whilst I was away thinking about tunes. Id felt an inertia slowly gather round me and mutate into a something more like a social paralysis. I looked up and realised I was 'trapped'. I remember a brief sensation of being drawn into something. Like hearing a plane flying far away overhead on a quiet Summer’s day. I coughed needlessly but hacked up something anyway.
“Bad cough, fella.” Danny shouted, close and over the juke box din, with a tilted back look.
“Too much choke.” I said, gulped some beer and focused on a neutral point half way between the bar and the bottles of spirits, nodding.
“I can get you some cheap fags. Real ones. Sort that out for ya.” He shouted over the noise.
I nodded.
“Addidas trackies John Fish shirts?” He insisted frowning this time.
“Not my cut. Look….” I just wanted to be left alone to get drunk. He looked like he felt like he’d spotted a mug. I delved into a jammed pocket and hand him a note.
He had. I didn’t know. Well it was a twenty, we both knew that. But that’s not what he meant. Obviously. Things like this don’t happen, he meant. No one, but no one gives money away for nothing, especially coin like this, unless there was some conspiracy or other. But there wasn’t any plot at that point. It was just a stupid attempt to parachute out of the situation. I hoped that by giving him a couple of folds, that that would be that. I’d have bailed out. I’d let the money talk and thought it would shield me from unpleasantness. Something against all the programme’s rules. Sorry Studds. Where ever you are. But then again, I don’t blame myself for what happened. They were your rules. I should feel bad? Well, maybe a little. Yes, that river in Egypt.
‘You fucking queerin me up mate?’ he shouted.
I looked incredulous. ‘Nah, nah. Just had a lucky day on the nags - just feeling a bit, generous’ I shouted back, improvising. He looked at the genuine note, then at me, pulled a face turned and walked off shaking his head through the multi-coloured crowd of drunks.

Sometimes Studds’ rules were completely abstract and inapplicable. Like the excracable ‘Random acts of kindness’ - all a bit BT40’s. I’d come to the conclusion that they had been conjured up with the intention that they couldn’t be followed at all times with any degree of consistency or without getting into a stupid looking analysis-paralysis. It almost compelled you, sometimes, to act randomly. ‘ Everything in moderation’, he’d once said, ‘Even moderation.
If I had been lucky that day I’d have ghosted out of the place before I’d set eyes on Danny Quinn. If not Quinn then not Coily if not Coily then not the branch then not, not the rest of it. Day 466 - it was about three weeks since I’d left London.

[1] T.Govern: ‘Towards a Categorisation of post-Depression Urban Crime across the Northern Sector’ in The Philosophy of Poverty: [P. Studds (Ed.): BT8, Richtown Press]